Charles-Henri Sanson is young, handsome, sophisticated, and rich. He’s also the eldest son of Paris’s most dreaded public official—and in the 1760s, after centuries of superstition, the executioner and his family are outcasts. Charles knows, despite the loathing he feels for the job, that the hangman’s son must become one himself or starve, for society’s doors are closed to him.
Though conscientious and compassionate, Charles, in accepting the inevitable, by the bitter irony of fate will someday become one of the busiest executioners in history. Long before the French Revolution, however, Charles must spend his youth unwillingly carrying out the monarchy’s merciless justice. A passionate love affair, and becoming a doctor to the poor, help him put out of his mind the horrors of public whipping, hanging, torture, breaking, and burning that he witnesses almost daily. But at last the day comes when—faced with stark injustice—he cannot reconcile the law’s brutal demands with his conscience.
Sure to appeal to fans of the “Hangman’s Daughter” tales, The Executioner’s Heir, the true story of a pair of tragic, converging lives, is a darkly atmospheric novel of prerevolutionary France in all its elegance, decadence, and cruelty.
(Publishers Weekly) "Charles’s personal crisis and clashing loyalties evoke Greek tragedy, and speak to the issues that will resonate with readers." (Starred Review)
(Kirkus Reviews) "Alleyn’s exhaustive research pays off handsomely in well-drawn characters and colorful historical context. In particular, her female characters are refreshing in their range and willingness to defy stereotypes. A sequel would be welcome to this deftly imagined tale of the years before the French Revolution. A well-researched, robust tale featuring an endearing executioner."
In this novel, set in 18th-century France, Alleyn examines the clash of family obligation and individual freedom through the saga of Charles Sanson, who, at age 14, believes himself incapable of decapitating anyone. For most 14-year-olds, this wouldn't be a problem, but Charles is descended from a family of executioners, and he is expected to adopt the family trade at a young age. As Charles reluctantly accepts his profession, Alleyn provides a backdrop of indifferent spectators to highlight the differences in sensibilities between the public and the executioners who carry out justice for their safety. Alleyn is presenting a moral treatise, but it's one that challenges readers and provides an interesting historical perspective. Charles's personal crisis and clashing loyalties evoke Greek tragedy, and speak to the issues that will resonate with readers.